Curator Georgina Johnson’s book, which includes conversations with vital cultural voices such as Curator Francesca Gavin and articles by Fashion Revolution co-founder Orsola de Castro, explores alternative models of working and values for living for a more equitable and sustainable future.
In 2018, artist and curator Georgina Johnson partnered with mental health activist Sara Radin on a manifesto that, once finished, came to a little over 200 words. The aim of the manifesto, which Johnson and Radin titled Slow Fashion to Save Minds, was to propose new ways of creating, living and working for a more equitable and mentally and environmentally sustainable future. It’s been three years since the release of Slow Fashion to Save Minds, but the urgency of their words continues to resonate.
In fact, last summer, Johnson released The Slow Grind: Finding Our Way Back to Creative Balance, a book that expands on the initial ideas laid out in her manifesto, delving deeper into many of the most pressing issues at the intersection of creativity and environmental and social justice through a series of essays by and interviews with artists, academics and activists across the creative and climate sectors. The list of contributors is as far-reaching as it is powerful, and includes stylist and Dazed editor-in-chief Ib Kamara, photographer Campbell Addy, designer Bethany Williams, Fashion Act Now co-founder Sara Arnold and Kimberly Jenkins, Ryerson University professor and founder of the Fashion and Race Database, among others.
As The Slow Grind gears up for its second print run, Atmos speaks to Johnson about why intersectional environmentalism and community-oriented thinking are instrumental to combating systemic injustice.
To start things off, what prompted the creation of The Slow Grind?
Primarily my experiences—racialized experiences—of the [arts] industry. It was prompted by many musings around where mental health and wellbeing fit into the algorithm of these industries. [The Slow Grind] is about challenging not only physical consumption but the consumption of images, the consumption of media, the consumption of anything that lacks longevity.
My thinking for this book actually started in 2014 when I finished the second year of my degree. I took a year out and worked for some couture brands [where] I experienced a lot of racism. When I came back to do my final year, I had a completely different mindset because the first two years were traumatic. However, at the start of 2021, I found out that some of what I’ve been experiencing for the last 10 years is bipolar disorder. When I was in my degree, I would be so exhausted that I would fall asleep standing up. I would just be consistently going. The [same thing] happened after the book was first published in November, 2020. I thought I was fine at the start of the year because I had The Slow Grind to focus on. But as the year went on and the pandemic continued and I’d finally released the project,I went into a really bad episode that landed me in a mental health hospital for some time in November.
It became clear just how systemic and institutionalized racism is. [At the mental health hospital I was at], 80% of the patients were Black women. The staff, the psychiatrists at the top, were all white; it really rang home to me how prevalent the power imbalance is across sectors but even more so in health care. Once I was released, I spent the winter and spring healing: when I felt brave enough or had the energy enough to go outside, I went on two hour long walks, feeding cows that lived up the street from where I was staying. Being in nature healed me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It just made me feel small in the best sense.
So, that’s what led me to do a rerun of the book—it’s a reminder of just how ingrained health, both physical and mental, is in the way that we are socialised, learn to treat people within the community as well as the natural world and everything else.
This book is a reminder of just how ingrained health, both physical and mental, is in the way that we learn to treat people within the community as well as the natural world.
Thank you for sharing such an honest answer. What you said about the urgent need for more care and more social responsibility towards one another made me think of the manifesto you present in the middle of The Slow Grind. It reads: Rebel against the pace and bars currently set and respect each and every body’s creative and mental capacity as well as their needs. That’s how we safeguard our ecosystems and till the soil for socially and environmentally sustainable economies.
What role does creativity play in collective acts of healing—both within communities and within the natural world?
I think the lesson that we can take from nature in terms of creativity is collaboration. It’s cross-pollination. It’s sharing minds, sharing resources, sharing skills. I think that that is a deeply social and creative way to work because it also becomes non-hierarchical. If you look at a garden, there’s this beautiful root system beneath where the [roots] all support each other.
My grandma has a gorgeous garden—it’s something that’s really embedded in Caribbean culture. She was saying to me the other day, the more flowers you plant, the more difficult it is for weeds to grow because flowers will absorb all the nutrients from the soil. And immediately that made me think, okay so, my positive thoughts have the power to starve the negative thoughts in my head. Last year, for example, I had a lot of worry about: would the book sell? Would it do well? Would people be interested in it? All of those things. And then at some point I was just like, do you know what? I’m proud of myself for doing it. It’ll do what it does. And in that way, I let myself have an element of pride no matter what happens.
To answer your question, I do think having a creative mindset can enable hope to thrive instead of meditating or spending time on destructive things. Those things are there, they’re prevalent, they can feel very obvious. But if we can collaborate and—like I said—cross-pollinate, we can create solutions. I don’t believe that we can restore everything that we’ve lost but I do believe that we can work to enable nature to thrive.
That idea of cross-pollination also speaks to the structure and the format of the book. The Slow Grind is made up of such a broad range of voices from so many different walks of life. What informed who you commissioned and collaborated with for the book?
A lot of the people that got involved in the first place, I have good relationships with. Even with them, it took some persuasion because of the [industry’s] gatekeeping and the fear that saying something about it could ruin your career. Having said that, I think that what is beautiful about The Slow Grind is [precisely] that it is grounded in alternative perspectives. It is in that sense an outlet or a platform for people to air extraordinary viewpoints that aren’t in my mind actually that extraordinary—they’re just very necessary.
The Slow Grind includes conversations that have [historically] not been given a mic because they don’t enable us to meet that bottom line in the same way that we’re used to. We can’t reject profit and reject all of those things overnight because our economies are built on that. But I do think embedding new ways of working and living can be equally satisfying, equally resourceful and equally beneficial if it’s something we make a genuine commitment to.
It’s true—it seems to me that the urgent need to change the way that we work and our attitudes towards each other has never been more obvious. A lot of us feel this pressure to constantly work and be productive. Even to the point where resting is mistaken for laziness or is considered morally inferior. That’s why I love the name, The Slow Grind. In order to reset we need to rethink our pace of life, what we are working towards and why.
Yes, exactly. Two things—the lesson of The Slow Grind is about pace but it’s also about understanding that everybody’s pace is different. So, me taking a break for seven months in order to recover might be too much for somebody that’s only used to being able to take two days. I don’t know if it’s possible to put parameters around rest because we all live our lives at different speeds but I do think it is very important to put an onus on the idea of rest and the idea of taking your time, whatever that time might be. I don’t believe in 24/7 culture. My main marker of success is having thriving, deep relationships.
The lesson of The Slow Grind is about pace but it’s also about understanding that everybody’s pace is different.
I love that. And I agree that if we were to redefine what success is for each of us—and actually put that into practice—it would make all the difference.
I totally agree with you. In my essay at the end of the book, I talk about my experiences with race and mental health within the [creative] industries. That’s why I feel that transparency is so important. There are no rulebooks about how people live, how they manage their businesses, how they manage their finances. Everyone is literally winging it. Everyone is posturing. But, do you know what? Times are hard. If we just dropped the exterior, we would have such incredible industries. That would enable real collaborations, ones where you wouldn’t be scared to share information.
But what we’re talking about is characteristic of capitalism, right? It wants to drive you forward and makes you feel like you have to compete tirelessly to keep up and emulate whatever that person’s doing—even though you probably don’t know how they got there. And it’s just continuous. It really is a ploy of capitalism and especially western society, which has through colonialism and imperialism ruined the world. Now the rest of the world is trying to catch up with what the West is doing.
To finish off, I wanted to ask about the rerun of the book. What prompted it? And what do you hope for the future of The Slow Grind?
I want to have more social and economic mobility with this project because I do see it as something I continue to do. I want to do at least three works in The Slow Grind series—so I actually want to start with research on the second one next year. And this year, since March, I’ve been slowly recording a podcast with some brilliant womxn—creative practitioners working within the spheres of art and science.
In terms of what prompted the second print run? I only wanted to do 200 copies in the first round. I didn’t have the money and that’s why I did it via pre-order. And then I ended up selling around 500 copies and I was just like, I need to stop this now because I need to make sure it’s manageable. This second print run [is motivated] by the same reasons as the first: because it needs longevity. It needs presence. People need to hear these conversations. And that was set in stone when the first one did as well as it did.
And in the same way, I still want to hold brands, organizations and institutions accountable. Last year, we launched on June 1, just after George Floyd’s murder. The internet and the world erupted and we all saw the black squares appearing [on our social media timelines] alongside the weird sentiments by organizations. It makes me so annoyed because I’ve always thought about how mainstream culture commodifies Black and Brown culture—or just Blackness in general. And [that’s what that was]: commodifying trauma to virtue signal.
And I was just like, no, I don’t want you to get away with this. So I reached out to different brands and I said to them, can you pledge and commit to the Black futures pledge?—something I launched alongside the book last year. I asked them, Can you stand behind your words? Then, put money and resources in the places that we want to thrive. That is something I will continue to say repeatedly. Put money in the places you want to see thrive. That’s your biggest resource. That’s what the world runs on. Put your money there.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for the purposes of length and clarity. The Slow Grind is available to pre-order here.